One of the most iconic photos of Myanmar is the image of dozens of hot air balloons drifting across the plains of Bagan with a layer of fog shrouding hundreds of ancient temples. This is a 'must do' on many travelers list and for good reason — getting a bird's eye view of thousands of historic monuments is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Highlights

  • Most hot air balloon flights operate only from October to April
  • Only three places offer flights: Bagan, Inle Lake, and Ngapali
  • Flights typically take off around sunrise, the best times for views

Overview

Hot air ballooning started in Myanmar in 1998, when an international balloonist group first visited the country. Undeterred by critical press reports about the military regime, they fell in love with the country and have continued to return, eventually establishing a tourism company. These days there are three licensed companies offering hot air balloon flights in Myanmar and the destinations have expanded beyond Bagan to include Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach.

Below, we'll explain the flight experience from start to finish and how to go about planning your hot air balloon experience in Myanmar.

#1 Classic Flights over Bagan

Flying over Bagan
An early-morning flight of the foggy plains of Bagan

Soar above the plains of Bagan over 2000 ancient pagodas.

#2 Flights over Inle Lake

Hot-Air Ballooning over Inle Lake
A bird's eye view over Inle Lake by hot-air balloon (Photo credit: Oriental Ballooning)

See the floating gardens, stilted villages and Shan hills from on high.

#3 Flights over Ngapali Beach

Hot Air Balloon Tours in Ngapali
Hot Air Balloon Tours in Ngapali (Photo credit: Oriental Ballooning)

On this flight, you'll get birds-eye views of the turquoise waters of the Bay of Bengal and the rugged wild Rakhine Mountains.

The Flight Experience

The morning begins before the first light of day. The balloon companies provide shared transfers from the hotel to the launch site, a location selected by the pilots each morning based on the day's wind patterns. Upon arrival, tea and coffee are served as well as a light pastry while the crew finishes the final flight preparations. Once the balloon canopy is inflated and upright, passengers climb into the basket and the pilot will give detailed safety instructions.

Then, the pilot will fire up the burners and the balloon will slowly rise into the sky as the crew waves farewell. The balloon gently gains elevation and, as it rises above the treeline, fantastic scenery comes into view. If flying in Bagan, the spires of thousands of pagodas spread in the distance with the Irrawaddy River appearing in the west. In Inle Lake, the floating gardens and stilted houses of the water’s residents appear below. 

During the course of the flight, the pilot will change elevation to catch the winds. The balloons cannot be steered in the way a car can, so the pilot must search for favorable winds to direct the balloon in the desired direction. When dipping low, up-close views of villages and sites appear it is not unusual for locals to come out to wave to the balloon passengers. And when rising high, the birds-eye views get even more expensive.

The pilot will also provide commentary about the scenes below, acting as a bit of a guide. They have extensive knowledge of the terrain, the culture, and Myanmar’s history. The pilot will also explain how he or she is able to navigate the balloon.

When it comes time to land, the pilot will search out a suitable landing zone with flat terrain and few obstacles. While the pilot will attempt to set the balloon on the ground gently, there is often enough of a breeze that the balloon makes a few light ‘skips’ across the ground. The crew will be there to help secure the balloon so that guests can disembark before the canopy fully deflates.

The fun is not over yet. After landing a small table and chairs are set up, usually amid a field or sometimes on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The pilot will pop open a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne for a toast, a ballooning tradition that dates back to the 1800s. A light breakfast will be served and each passenger is awarded a flight certificate to cap off the experience.

Flying season

Due to weather conditions, flights in Bagan operate from October until April. In Inle Lake and Ngapali, they are scheduled from November to March. From time to time in cases of bad weather, flights are canceled at the last minute. In this case, ticket prices are fully refunded or guests can move to another date depending on availability. Flights typically operate at sunrise. 

Frequently asked questions

Balloon & Basket

Hot air balloon basket
You'll be standing in a strong wicker basket that fits 8-16 people, depending on its size

The balloons come in various sizes, with the smallest fitting 8 passengers and the largest being 16 passengers. However, the layout of the balloon ensures that the experience is the same regardless of the size. Each basket is divided into smaller compartments holding just four people. These compartments are placed around a central area where the pilot stands and controls the burners. 

The baskets are constructed of wicker and wood, resulting in a very sturdy, stiff structure. The sides of the basket are just over one meter in height. Although there are no seats, the baskets do have handles that are useful for keeping your balance on landing.

Why do I have to provide my weight when booking?

Prior to the flight, the pilots must stock the balloons with the proper amount of fuel. This is determined by estimated flight time and basket load. Therefore, the pilots must know passengers’ weights in advance. They then allocate basket assignments to evenly distribute the weight to assure optimum fuel usage. Guests over 125 kg must pay for two tickets.

Average flight duration

This depends purely on the wind conditions but the average flight lasts 40-60 minutes. With the pre and post flight activities, the total experience is around 3 hours in Bagan and Ngapali and up to 5 hours in Inle Lake.

How much do flights cost?

Flights  start at $340 USD per person per flight for classic service and $390 USD per person for premium service. During the peak period (end of Dec-early Jan) a surcharge is applied.

Is it safe?

The balloon companies in Myanmar abide by international ballooning standards, with all pilots certified by UK license companies. The balloons are built by British companies and serviced by a team of professional engineers.

Recent Trip Reviews

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Annette

Myanmar from above: best hot air balloon flights, Myanmar - Jan 2 - Jan 6, 2018

Traveler: Annette P. - Local specialist: Anne Cruickshanks

This was a great trip, from the start of the planning to the flight home! Anne responded daily to all my questions/concerns and this made the trip planning so smooth and easy. Our guides, Lu Wine and Zawturn we incredible! They were very friendly and the trip felt more like visiting a friend who was showing us around, as opposed to hiring a guide.
We got to really feel the local scene in Mandalay! We went to local markets, spoke with Budist monks and nuns. It was great!
We learned so much... read more

This was a great trip, from the start of the planning to the flight home! Anne responded daily to all my questions/concerns and this made the trip planning so smooth and easy. Our guides, Lu Wine and Zawturn we incredible! They were very friendly and the trip felt more like visiting a friend who was showing us around, as opposed to hiring a guide.
We got to really feel the local scene in Mandalay! We went to local markets, spoke with Budist monks and nuns. It was great!
We learned so much about the temples in Bagan and the religion.

Also, our guides and Anne had backup plans for everything. For instance, we wanted to ride bicycles in Mandalay but it rained so we had a driver pick us up and we went to a monastery where we got to talk to a young monk who told us about Budism and what it’s like to be a monk. This is an experience we would not have had if we didn’t book the tour.
In Bagan, the weather was nice so we got to Bike, but I ran over something sharp and got a flat tire. But our driver followed not too far behind and was quickly able to meet up with us so our trip could continue. Anne and her team really thought of everything!
Also, considering the expertise, thorough planning, and great accommodations, I’m surprised the price is at such a good value!
Our guides an Anne showed us the real culture of Myanmar that most tourists I’m sure miss. If you wanted to be among locals and try local food and see places visited by locals and some tourists, then this is the perfect trip for you! I would happily book again!